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'All Are Welcome' at Martinsburg feast

November 27, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Monsignor Patrick Fryer's "famous" cranberry sauce looked like a lumpy blob of bright red jelly as Richard Burdie scooped it onto his plate with a plop.

Watching it settle in next to the turkey, the man next to Burdie in the buffet line at Saint Joseph Parish School in Martinsburg raised his eyebrows.

"It's delicious," Burdie reassured him. "It's all delicious."

An estimated 1,200 guests and 150 volunteers piled their decorative Chinet plates and takeout containers with steaming slices of turkey and ham, mounds of dressing and mashed potatoes, and globs of sauerkraut and cranberry sauce on Thursday before settling down to enjoy good food and good company at the annual "All Are Welcome" community Thanksgiving dinner.

Helen Harris, who oversaw the dinner, said the conversations echoing in the cafeteria of the school were the essence of why the church serves the Thanksgiving meal.

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Eight years ago, there was nowhere in Martinsburg where people could go for a meal and fellowship on Thanksgiving, Harris said.

Longtime members of Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Harris and her husband, Leonard, approached the church about opening its hearts and doors to fill that void in the Martinsburg community.

"So many people are alone or their family is out of town during this holiday, while others cannot afford to put a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the table," she said.

Volunteers from as far away as Cleveland served 11 hams, 25 turkeys, gallons of cranberry sauce and more potatoes than Harris could count for the meal.

Kitchen coordinator Robert Nicoletti said with 40 cooks in his kitchen, preparing food for more than 1,000 people was a fun kind of stress.

"Its going to be close," he said. "We might actually run out of food."

Volunteer Ed Wilson said the spirit of those crammed into the small school cafeteria was indicative of Thanksgiving.

"There is a fantastic spirit among these people, volunteers and guests alike," Wilson said. "I have not heard a grumbling word yet."

Those such as Robert Collins, who enjoyed the meal, said there was nothing to grumble about.

"I really appreciate this. It's a great thing they are doing here," he said. "It makes for a nice Thanksgiving."

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